Recycled newspapers, “Bo-Zilla” deck the White House halls

December 1, 2010


The White House sometimes may not know what to do with reporters’ questions, but it appears to have made good use of their work this holiday season – using old magazines and newspapers to help deck the halls. The recycled publications were used to make sparkling golden wreaths and trees adorning the “Green Room,” which is decorated with the theme of recycling and reusing ordinary materials.

This year’s decorations at the executive mansion — with an overarching theme of “Simple Gifts” — include 19 trees. One  is covered with red, white and blue ornaments commemorating the branches of the U.S. military, and topped with a hand-made dove, symbolizing peace. Beside the tree is a basket filled with cards on which visitors can write messages, and a mailbox to send the messages to troops serving overseas.

A large figure of Bo, the Obama family dog, wearing a picture of himself on a red collar, is the focal point of an area decorated to depict “A Child’s Joy.”   A tree showcases gingerbread ornaments decorated by 300 children of members of all branches of the U.S. military. Nearby is the figure of the shaggy family pet, made of 40,000 black and white pipe cleaners.  “It’s pretty, pretty shocking,” first lady Michelle Obama told children attending a preview of the decorations. “But it’s very cool and he’s very soft.”

Bob Lapp, 88, from Carlinville, Illinois, one of the volunteers who helped decorate the White House, said the real Bo had seen his doppelganger. “I’m sure he’s seen it, because he’s walked through here many times,” said Lapp. Joking that no one might believe that someone his age could pitch in as a volunteer, Lapp pointed out another tribute to the first pet. This year’s White House Christmas card is on a wall near the Bo statue. Signed by the president and first lady and their daughters Malia and Sasha, it also bears the “signature” Bo, with a small paw print.

Bo’s likeness makes another appearance in the State Dining Room, where the dog is modeled in a marzipan blend and sits in front of this year’s White House gingerbread house. The mansion confection is clad in white chocolate with clear gelatin windows and even a tiny White House kitchen garden — this year’s model weighs well over 400 pounds.

“They complain every year that it’s getting heavier. We just tell them that they’re getting older,” executive pastry chef Bill Yosses joked. The White House chefs have crafted gingerbread houses since Richard Nixon was president four decades ago.

The chef acknowledged that the “Bo” model was out of scale with the intricately detailed gingerbread house. “He’s Bo-Zilla,” he joked, but said the dog was deliberately made large to emphasize the “hominess” of the house.

Yosses laughed when he was asked if he’d consider making an edible model of the president. “That’s pretty risky, isn’t it?” he commented. “If asked, I would, but it’s not something I’d volunteer for.”

Nearly 100 volunteers come to the White House every year to put up the decorations.  Several said they had applied after seeing television programs about the yearly decorations, and some had written letters to the White House several times before being chosen.

“To actually even hang one bulb in the White House, you just feel as if I’ve done something so important,” said Linda Linnen, a retired teacher and consultant from Littleton, Colorado.

Alexander Schneider, a 23-year-old studying set design, said he had wanted to help at the White House for 10 years, and that he had been chosen this time after writing and asking if his grandmother could come with him. His acceptance letter was written “To Alexander’s grandmother,” and both were at the White House for Wednesday’s preview.

Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (White House holiday decorations)

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